(Image from 2003 championship)

Women’s hockey truly came into its own at the turn of the millennium. Although some colleges had teams as early as the 1970s, it was not until 1998 that women first competed internationally in the Olympics and nationally in a championship. The U.S. Olympic Committee financed the American Women’s College Hockey Alliance (AWCHA) to hold the first national championships, and that was also the first year rewarding the Patty Kazmaier Award (for the top women’s hockey player each season). However, it took until August 2000 before the NCAA sanctioned a division of women’s ice hockey and held its championship at the end of the 2000-01 season. The first official NCAA National Collegiate Women’s Ice Hockey Tournament took place in March 2001.

For the first women’s Frozen Four, Dartmouth Big Green (26-3-1) came in ranked No. 1 having both placed first in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) and having won its tournament. The No. 2 seed was the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) Bulldogs (26-5-4), who placed second in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) but won its tournament. Their coach, Shannon Miller, had coached Team Canada in the 1998 Olympics, and when she realized that most American players preferred Big 10 schools, she recruited seven players from Swedish, Finnish, and Swiss national teams. Harvard Crimson (23-9-0) held the No. 3 spot with their second-place finish in the ECAC rankings and tournament. Finally, the St. Lawrence Saints (23-7-3) made it to No. 4 as third place in the ECAC despite having lost their semifinal game in the tournament.

The Frozen Four semifinals took place at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 23. At 4 p.m., top-seed Dartmouth played bottom-seed St. Lawrence. Everyone was shocked when the Saints sunk three unanswered goals on top-ranked goalie Amy Ferguson (who had a 92.9 winning percentage) before the first period had ended. St. Lawrence coach Paul Flanagan said, “I thought, if anything, we probably caught them off guard. At first it was almost too much too quick. Our kids were almost too giddy on the bench and we had to get them focused.” Dartmouth replaced Ferguson with Meaghan Cahill, but the Saints only managed five shots on goal in the remaining periods. Meanwhile, their rookie goalie, Rachel Barrie, blocked 30 shots and only let in one shorthanded goal during the last four minutes of play. With a score of 3-1, St. Lawrence advanced to the finals.

At 7:30 p.m. on March 23, the UMD took on Harvard. Going into the game, Coach Miller commented, “We’re proud to be representing the Midwest. Actually, it’s quite a good feeling. Any time we come down to play the Gophers, they’re very hospitable. Now to be here and have it be the home ice is a very good feeling.” Still, Harvard looked to be tough opponents considering they had two finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award, and both Tammy Shewchuck and Jennifer Botteril had played for Miller on Team Canada. To loosen up the Bulldogs before the game, Miller and her assistants wore wigs to their Friday morning skate. The Minneapolis Star Tribune teased that the team was “so laid-back it took two periods before they awoke from their slumber,” and Miller said afterwards, “I’ve got to apologize for the first period, I think, for both teams. It was not pretty hockey.” In reality, they scored first (on a power play in the second period) before Harvard tied up. Then in the first eight minutes of the third period, UMD scored four goals. “Obviously, there was about a 10-minute period there where we really turned it on offensively and got a lot of shots on net and put the puck in the net,” said Miller. Although the Crimson sunk two back-to-back goals within 1:21, the Bulldogs finished the game at 6-3. Harvard coach Katey Stone merely commented, “We lost a game to a really good hockey team. We knew how good Duluth was back in December.”

Mariucci Arena hosted the first NCAA finals on March 25, 2001. At 1 p.m., Harvard defeated Dartmouth 3-2 for third place. Harvard’s Botterill took home the Patty Kazmaier Award but commented, “It’s a huge honor, but I definitely would trade it any day for a NCAA championship, that’s for sure.”

At 5 p.m., a crowd of 3,079 watching the championship game between No. 2 UMD and No. 4 St. Lawrence. Back in their season openers, the Bulldogs had defeated the Saints 7-0 and 4-3, but that was due in part to the Saints still auditioning four goalies for the top spot. Both teams featured a high number of underclassmen. Duluth had the advantage in number of shots per game (with 43.6 over St. Lawrence’s 31.3). After the Saints scored first (at 11:22 of the first period), the Bulldogs proceeded to score four goals between the last three minutes of the first period and the first six minutes of the third. As the Star Tribune summarized, “Duluth’s solid forechecking and relentless offense simply overwhelmed St. Lawrence after the first period ended at 1-1. The Bulldogs scored four consecutive goals before the Saints scored during a 6-on-4 situation with 54 seconds remaining.” With a score of 4-2, UMD won the first NCAA championship. Swedish import Maria Rooth was named the tournament’s outstanding player. She commented, “This is extremely big, because this is the national championship and you can’t get any higher in college hockey.” Coach Miller celebrated but looked ahead. “Any time you go to a national championship, it’s a big deal. I think we’ve built a really, really solid foundation in Duluth, and I think you’ll see UMD women’s hockey in the top teams in the country for a long time to come.”

For the next two years, UMD defended their title, and to this day, they have won the championship more than any other team besides their fellow WCHA Minnesotans, the Gophers. In fact, until 2014, only those two teams and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Badgers ever won the tournament. That year (and again in 2017 and 2018), the Clarkson Golden Knights became the only ECAC team to win. The most recent championship game, held on March 24, 2019, was won by the Badgers when they shutout the Gophers 2-0. This brings them tied with the Bulldogs for number of championships.

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